Words to use


I have been asked for suggestions for phrases to use to invite cooperation and that can be respectful.

Age 3 and up:

  • “Did you have a question for me?” (“How can I help you?”) when child makes a demand (“I want JUICE!!!!”)
  • “Check yourself” (are you doing what you need to be doing?”)
  • (When child is wrong, factually), “Well, that is another answer”.
  • When there is a problem: “What will you do next time so that this doesn’t happen?”

All ages:

  • “I am not available. I can help you (after you, when you, when I…).”
  • “THAT is not available; (the baby is using it, she has it). You can ask her to give it to you when she is done.”
  • “Next time… (I want you to wait until I am done to talk).”
  • “Say some more … (about what is going on; child is upset).
  • (When child makes a mistake, but was trying) “Thank you for taking a risk.”
  • “If I were you (I would walk away, find my pajamas).”
  • The words “choose, decide, pick, and act” puts the responsibility on the child, where it should be: “I see you chose to leave your raincoat at home”; “I noticed you decided to let your sister use that first.” “I wonder why you are picking to cry instead of using your words?” “How did you decide to act when she hit you?”
  • “You decide, or I’ll decide.” (Two choicesJ)
  • “Please make a decision.”
  • “Thank you for telling me, but this is not a choice/option.”
  • (I can’t find my shoes) “It sounds like you have a problem to solve.”
  • (Alternatively) Parent: “I want you to help me solve a problem; I don’t like dirty clothes on the floor in my house.”
  • “Do you want some help, or do you want more time?”
  • “I don’t like what I just heard.  What is another way to tell me/ask me?”
  • “Make a picture in your mind.” (Visualize how to do something before trying it.)
  • “Touch him gently” (tell child what TO do instead of what NOT to do.)
  • “Walking feet.” (When child resists) “Thank you for letting me know you need help; I will help you_______.”
  • Only ask once, then act, without talking, or simply saying: “Thank you for letting me know you need help. I will help you (put that away, let go of the baby, give me the scissors, hold my hand in the parking lot.)
  • “I would love for you to be here, but I need you to stop (whining/crying/complaining….).”
  • “Would you be so kind as to…?” (Who would say no to being kind?)
  • Repeat back to child the words that they used so that they know they were heard and understood. (“You are saying…. I hear you and I will help you in a minute.  You don’t need to tell me again.”)
  • Give the child in fantasy what you cannot give in reality: “I know that you like your friend so much that you wish you could play together for days and days.”
  • “Even though”: “Even though you wish you could play outside all day, it is time to go inside and make dinner.”
  • Describe what you see: “Wow, you are really crying loudly. And you are kicking your feet, too.  You are really sad and upset.”

These last are notes from an early Montessori observation:

  • “Whoever gets it out, puts it back.”
  • If a child is mishandling something: “Let me help you put that back.”
  • “Let me finish showing you this, and then we’ll talk.”
  • Focus the child’s attention (often silently) on the sensations of what you are doing: slowing down to walk, feeling the soap on their hands as you help them wash, looking at something silently.
  • Response to a child who is not using something correctly/carefully: “There is a special part of this that I want to show you.”
  • “I’d like to give you some help.” (Resists) “That’s not an option.”
  • If child is being focused and respectful, and time is not pressing, they have the right not to be interrupted.
  • Precise movements are attractive to a child and invite them to repeat what you are doing. Language is an abstraction of the action, so it is important that the child does the thing repeatedly before too much language is given or expected.
  • Children cannot report what they did before around age 7, as 1) the work is internal, and 2) the work is meeting a need and therefore is subjective, not objective.
  • “Come and get me when you are done.” To get child to finish something without your presence.